Well, my father’s beckoning me to accompany him to our cottage in the Northwoods of Wisconsin for the annual “time to put the pier and boats in the water and kick off another summer” routine. So that means that, yes, it’s Memorial Day weekend, and yes, another summer is upon us.
Our last summer? Who knows? The Mayans thought so, but now apparently we’ve found another Mayan calendar (presumably they just ran out of space on the first piece of paper or something), so maybe we all got a little too excited about the end of the world before we knew the whole story. Then again, the Stone Roses are back together, Manchester City rules the EPL and Brian Wilson and Mike Love are now sharing the same stages. Apocalypse might truly be near. If the Cubs find a way into October baseball, start saying your goodbyes to family and call your long-lost crushes to make sure they know how you feel before we all leave this planet.
I’m not trying to be bleak, trust me. I’d LOVE a Cubs World Series win. Perfect way to go out.
But looking at the Cubs season thus far, it seems much more likely that we’re set for another 104 years of misery on this f*cking rock and I’ll be back with another batch of sunny tunes this time next year.
So use this to soundtrack your possible last summer on Earth, but also every good drive, day out or sun-kissed experience you undertake between now and when I post the Autumn mix. I’ve been listening to this in thing in the car all week and I can report with no false modesty that I hit it out of the park with this sixth volume of summer is a mixtape.
summer is a mixtape. vol VI
01. Louis Armstrong – Skokiaan
Some songs have a beat that’ll just get you every time. This is one of them. In a day and age of computers and iPods where you can pinball to any one of thousands of songs in an instant (this is something which I’m guilty of, by the way), I never find myself able to skip ahead when this comes on. Armstrong recorded this in 1954 with Sy Oliver’s Orchestra, and by the time he got to the tune, it had become an interesting hybrid. Unsurprisingly, the tune started out as an instrumental that was composed by South African composer August Musarurwa with a title that referred to some kind of alcoholic beverage that I’ve never tried. As things go in North America, the white man got a hold of it by way of Four Lads (yes, of “Istanbul”and “On Top of Spaghetti” fame) and added some lyrics that probably were perfectly acceptable by 1954 standards, but if you had a white man today basically equating the language in “happy happy Africa” to “a-bing-a-bing-a-bingo!” I’d imagine there’d be a lot of talking heads pontificating on the cable news networks. Apparently Louis didn’t have too big of a problem with it, and if you can get past the blatant-condescension-by-2012-standards in the lyrics, it’s pretty damn enjoyable. You’ll even find yourself singing along quite happily.
02. Nick Miller – Raunch
I saw this guy perform at the Metro in the fall of 2010. He used this song to open his set, and I’ve been obsessed with it since. I don’t know if it’s the lyrics (“I’m not a nice guy—No, I just play one on TV, but I’ve rehearsed extensively, so enjoy the show” doesn’t look that great on paper, but it sounds really damn good) or just the general groove of this thing, but it’s a beast. I have no idea whether this guy is known outside of certain Chicago circles, but if me putting this song on this mix gets him a little more interest outside the Windy City, then I’ll be happy.
03. The Big Kids – For a Moment
This is Edgar Jones in one of his first post-Stairs outfits during the 1990s. Like most outfits that Edgar Jones has been a part of, the Big Kids’ reputation never traveled too far beyond the streets of Liverpool, but ever since being hooked by his Soothing Music for Stray Cats album and his work with the Joneses, I’ve been on a mission to find everything Jones has put his name too. This came into my collection by way of a compilation called 21st Century Liverpool Underground, which I believe contains pretty much everything the Big Kids committed to tape for release since they never did a proper album. They did a few great tunes (go searching for “I’m Bored” and “Too Much Baby” also), but this is easily the best of the lot. Total laid back summer tune that sounds like it could’ve been plucked straight out of 1968. Great track, but of course it is. It’s Edgar.
04. Spoon – Written in Reverse
I’m interested to see where Spoon go next, because I was left a little flat after Transference. It felt like an odds and ends collection rather than a solidly built album like pretty much everything they’d done previously. Still, even in that mixed bag was this song, which is one of my all-time favorites from them. They have a way about them of getting a pulse out of a piano (see also: “My Mathematical Mind,” “The Way We Get By”) and this song is kind of like a stressed heart. Pumps hard, makes you feel a bit uneasy, but also excitable at the same time because it just shifts into slightly higher gears as it progresses. Truly wonderful. That reminds me, though, I should probably schedule a checkup.
05. Harvey Fuqua – (Dance) Any Way You Wanta
Getting into Northern Soul music a few years ago led me to this song. Fuqua is actually pretty well known as a member of the Moonglows, songwriter and talent scout who worked with Etta James and brought Tammi Terrell to Motown. This is a song (released as a single in 1962 and subsequently covered by Junior Walker and the All Stars) that I heard out on a dance floor one night and something about it just hooked me. I still don’t know what it is. It’s a pretty ridiculous song, but it’s tight as hell, fun to listen to and entertaining if you’re on the floor with some good dancers. The vibe is playful and choppy and it just seemed to slide into this mix perfectly. Who am I to argue with sound logic?
06. The Beatles – Drive My Car/The Word/What You’re Doing
When Love was first released in 2006, I was generally indifferent. Yes, I’m a massive Beatles fan, but when you get to the point where you’re reconstructing songs because there’s nothing else to put out, it starts to stink of barrel-scraping. Of course, I was hearing it out of context. When my employer sent me to Las Vegas in January, I decided to take a night and see Cirque du Soleil’s “Love” show and I was absolutely blown away. And yes, within that production, the music makes complete sense. Now when I hear the mashups, I think about the performance and the feeling of seeing it for the first time and it excites me rather than making me think “Um, OK. I guess.” Plus to include “What You’re Doing” (which has always been one of the most overlooked and underrated songs in the Beatles oeuvre) is just awesome. The fact that this splices together a handful of songs (listen also for the “Taxman” solo and “Savoy Truffle” horns) and still comes and goes in less than 2 minutes is amazing. Great bit of fun here.
07. The Stone Roses – Waterfall
Still holding out hope that the guys make the reunion “world tour” a little more global and start looking at some dates in the States. Very happy that these guys patched up all the hurt left over from their split 17 years ago and are getting back out there (and getting the paychecks they deserve for it). The Stone Roses’ debut is summer music to me. I know I’ve put other cuts from it on previous summer mixes, and like any other track on the album, “Waterfall” belongs on one too. The guitar break just before it goes into the wild instrumental outro is one of my all time favorite guitar parts ever and reason why I’ll always think John Squire is a genius (and staunchly defend his two solo albums too). This track is better than anything on either of those solo albums, though. Pure bliss.
08. Bobby Darin – Jive
This song first bubbled up into my consciousness last year when someone compared it to Beady Eye’s “World Outside My Room” (which, you’ll recall, topped my list of the 15 Best of 2011). The fact that the Beady Eye boys might be drawing inspiration from a really rare Darin track piqued my interest, but this song also just found its way into my own rotation because of its awesomely laid-back feel. Something about hearing classic crooners taking steps down Recreational Drug Use Lane always makes me laugh (see also: Sinatra’s cocaine allusion in “I Get a Kick Out of You”), as it seems a little out of place for, you know, the artists our grandparents loved. So “been stoned since half past one” or “got my papers rolled” might sound kind of hokey, but hell, it’s Bobby Darin. The guy always had a great level of cool about him. This song was recorded very late in Darin’s career, when he was signed to the little-known Direction label. It hails from his 1969 album Commitment. I’ve not heard anything else from that album, but given my appreciation of this, maybe I’ll take a listen.
09. Mayer Hawthorne – The Walk
I’m a big fan of Mayer now, but this is the song that started it all for me just a few months ago. Funnily enough, my first exposure to it was in the Limited, whilst my girlfriend was in a changing room trying on new pairs of pants. Trying thought that may have been on my patience, something good came of it. Mayer’s 2011 album How Do You Do is quite phenomenal and worth your investigation. By now, most of my friends have probably heard this as the CD has not left my car and the LP is quite frequently on my turntable, but if you’ve not heard it yet, you’re welcome. Perfect summer tune, even if the subject matter is a little blacker than the other songs on this mix. And I think we’ve all been in the type of relationship described here within.
10. Andre Williams & His Orchestra – Sweet Little Pussycat
This is sleazy as hell, but it’s an unbelievable groove and a lot of fun too. I have a good friend who convinced me to see Williams recently, and believe me, however sleazy this record sounds, you must believe that a recording from 1960 isn’t half as filthy/fun as a 75-year-old, frazzled soul survivor belting out in 2012 is—particularly when he gets to the “You wanna know why? Because you’re MINE!” bit. If you get the chance to see Williams live, do it. But if this is enough of an incentive for you to start checking out some of his other work, I’ll also be happy. The guy’s name is affixed to a few tunes you already know. Some of the stuff you don’t know is what you really want to hear, though.
11. Ritchie Valens – Come On Let’s Go
Ritchie was only 17 when he cut this single in 1958, and he was also only about seven months away from boarding a plane with Buddy Holly and J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson that would crash shortly after takeoff and kill all of its passengers. Valens only amassed an album’s worth of studio recordings before he died, and that self-titled studio album would be released after his death. But while most of his recognition lies with “La Bamba” and “Donna,” this is often the overlooked gun in Valens’ limited arsenal. Which is a bit as it’s as much a classic recording (and representation) of the early rock and roll era as anything by Elvis, Gene Vincent or Bill Haley.
12. Gruff Rhys – Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru
Last year’s summer mix had a Gruff-penned tune sung entirely in Welsh too, so maybe this will become a tradition for the summer mixes. I’ll have to think about it. I have to believe that whatever language this song was in though, it would’ve merited a spot on this mix. The track, which comes from Gruff’s solo album Candylion, hooks you right away and thanks to my Welsh friend, I can tell you exactly what the title and all the choruses mean. You ready? “Driving driving driving driving driving driving driving driving driving driving driving driving driving driving driving driving.” Now if you’re ever lost in Wales and need a method of transportation away from all the sheep, you know what to say. There’s some other Welsh lightly scattered about that I haven’t worked out yet, but admit it: This is already the song you want in your car for all the $4/gallon trips you make this year. It makes the pain at the pump a little more tolerable. Only a little, yes, but still more tolerable.
13. Pharrell – Prettiest Girls
I waited eons to see “Despicable Me” because I have this “Pixar is better than anything else out there” attitude about me that manifested itself after I saw (and disliked) the first “Shrek.” But last summer, a friend visited and we had an afternoon to kill and we decided to rent a movie. We stared at the Redbox machine for probably way too long and finally just decided on “Despicable Me” and lo and behold, not only was it very entertaining, but Pharrell’s soundtrack work was pretty great too. Both “Fun, Fun, Fun” and this track jumped out at me—I actually first thought there was new Earth, Wind & Fire material I hadn’t been aware of when the songs played in the movie. This is the best cut from the soundtrack, and even though it’s music for a kids movie, it works for all ages.
14. Phoenix – Too Young
When Phoenix are at their best, they’re giving you a hook and a piece of melody that makes you want to move some part of your body. This was a lot of people’s first introduction to the band via the (still very good) soundtrack for “Lost in Translation.” It originally stems from the band’s 2000 album, United and is evocative enough to make you not think about middle aged Bill Murray wandering around Japan. In the years since this song has been released, it’s popped up in my rotation at various parties and get togethers and someone invariably says, “This is good. What is this?” So if there’s anyone left out there who hasn’t heard it, here you go. And if you have heard it, well, you probably dig it all the same.
15. The Archies – Sugar, Sugar
The story goes that this song was originally offered to the Monkees and given that Monkees puppetmaster Don Kirschner put together the studio musicians that play on this cut, it’s believable. Of course, by the time it was to be pitched to them, the Monkees were looking beyond this kind of music, so their involvement with it was not to be. Apparently one of the song’s composers says it was never meant for the Monkees, but who knows. I kind of like the idea that they were silly enough to turn it down and instead release Instant Replay and The Monkees Present in 1969. What, you don’t remember those albums either? So instead, a bunch of studio musicians laid this track down, released it under the guise of comic book characters and it becomes a huge hit. Sure it’s kind of corny, but admit it, you kind of like it too. Hell, Homer Simpson liked it enough to put it in his Walkman, so you’re gonna argue with him? I don’t think so. Not the guy who got a Starland Vocal Band tattoo. Wait …
16. Paul Weller – Starlite
The Wella fella released this as a standalone single last year, although I’m sure there are some bonus-tracked editions of this year’s Sonik Kicks album that contain it. I’ve been a bit down on some of Weller’s output lately, and feel that he gives space to too many “experiments” on recent albums as opposed to well-structured songs (which he’s always been pretty good at writing). I like that this is well-structured (and the groove is fabulous), but I like it moreso because it’s the first thing he’s done since his 1992 solo debut that actually can recall a bit of the Style Council. I can’t pin a specific Council trait on this one—it’s too easy to say the tinkling piano line does it—but the overall breeziness of it kind of harkens back to that stuff. And that’s a great thing as the Style Council too often get screwed over by Weller fans when they look at his career. They had a lot of good stuff besides “Shout to the Top” and “My Ever Changing Moods.” Also—take it from a guy who’s cruised through downtown Chicago at night with the sunroof open. This is GREAT summer night driving music.
17. The Traveling Wilburys – Dirty World
Probably my favorite Wilburys song. I like the way it chugs along and I think raspy old Dylan going on about a girl’s sexy body and wanting to park his pickup truck where the sun don’t shine is charming in its own odd way. I also think that this kind of song represents the point of the Wilburys in that it sounds like five dudes busting out their guitars and just having a laugh. Nevermind the names, the history, the egos, whatever. If it couldn’t provide a good time, then there probably was no point. You get the vibe that this was a good time all around. Has there ever been official affirmation that an “F” bomb is dropped in the last line, by the way? Is that a handy bit of editing or are they just saying “it’s a clean dirty world”? I’d prefer to believe the former.
18. The Dave Clark Five – Glad All Over
My earliest memories of listening to the radio go back to when I was about four years old and my mother would drive my infant sister and me around the streets of Denver to the sounds of modern radio. This is why I still have a deep affinity for Hall & Oates—their music is so deeply entrenched in my head. But sometime around 1990, my mom decided that she wasn’t that into the form modern music was taking, and the preset radio stations changed over to oldies stations. I think I was about 11 when I first heard “Glad All Over,” and this song, as much as anything Ringo Starr ever did, made me want to learn the drums. It’s not a terribly complex beat, but it just pounds and makes the song that much more exciting (this was also done to great effect on “Bits and Pieces,” which coincidentally came from the DC5’s same 1964 Glad All Over album). Nowadays when I listen, it isn’t the drumming that wows me, but Mike Smith’s lead vocal and that top harmony (particularly on the “So glad you’re mine” line). One of the most exciting and fun recordings ever.
19. Raphael Saadiq – It’s a Shame
For Raphael to cover this early Spinners tune seems just about right. Raphael’s 2008 album The Way I See It was incredibly steeped in 1960s Motown flavor, so his cover of this song (co-written by Stevie Wonder and the best cut on the Spinners’ Motown LP Second Time Around) is just what you’d expect. And even though it hits every mark you think it will, you can’t help but love it. Saadiq did this cover in 2010 for some kind of project to promote Levi’s jeans. I guess we have a certain amount of commercialism to thank for this cut, but I think the job does a better job promoting summer. Maybe it’s just me.
20. Frank Sinatra – Blue Moon
I did mention that Manchester City won the Premier League right? Beady Eye’s version just wouldn’t work as a closer. Besides, City affinity or not, “Blue Moon” is a classic little ditty, and Frank’s version from Sinatra’s Swingin’ Session!! is probably the classiest reading of the song ever committed to tape. It just sounds like the end of a nice summer night, doesn’t it? Life is good, things are relaxed, the air is warm and there are a few stars out to boot. Viva verano and all that …
Download. Listen. Enjoy. Feel the sun shining.